In the late 1980’s, Nissan wanted to be more competitive in the upper echelon of sports car racing, the GT1 class. To develop the new car, Nissan turned to the English company of Tom Walkinshaw Racing. TWR had a long, successful history in racing, having designed and built winning cars for Jaguar and Aston Martin, among others.
TWR had just completed building the Jaguar XJR-15 purpose built race car when they were approached by Nissan. The center cabin used on the Nissan project was actually a leftover from the Jaguar build. And if the headlights look familiar on the R390, that may be because they are the same headlights used on the Nissan 300ZX and the Lamborghini Diablo.
For power, Nissan updated their VRH35Z engine, last used in their Group C race cars. The updated, all aluminum, 3.5 liter V8 was designated the VRH35L, and was capable of producing over 640 HP, in race trim. The road car version was detuned to a cap of 560 HP.
The production regulation set by the FIA and ACO, governing bodies of sports car racing, stated that for a design to be eligible for competition, the manufacturer must produce at least one road going version of the car. Nissan and TWR complied with this rule by building just two R390’s. Both of the road cars produced were blue. One of the R390’s is safely kept in Nissan’s Zama Kanagawa facility and the other was sold at auction to a private buyer who is rumored to live in the U.K.. The R390 achieved a top speed of 220 mph in testing making it the fastest Japanese production car, even if there are only two.
The racing version of the R390 did have some on track success. Nissan entered three cars in the 1997 24 Hours of Le Mans. Two cars suffered fatal gearbox failure and the third struggled to a twelfth place finish. Nissan returned to Le Mans in 1998 with four cars, which they had modified to fix the gearbox and airflow issues. All four cars finished and in respectable positions, 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 10th. Like so many other race cars the R390 GT1 fell victim to rule changes before it could be used and manipulated to its full potential.
AUTOart and iXO make stunning versions of some of the full race R390's. Truly a rare and unique piece of JDM art.
If you have a R390 diecast post a pic in the comments!